Friday, April 11, 2008
Looking at Workplace Psychological Abuse (Part One)
One of the topics I will be addressing on this blog are the experiences I had at my former employer, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, where I worked for 30 years before being forced to retire prematurely in 2006 as a result of being seriously injured on the job by a psychologically abusive co-worker, and also by negligent, unresponsive, and abusive management. The co-worker's behavior regularly jeopardized patient care. She was reported to management many times, but nothing was ever successfully done to address her destructive behavior which went on for more than two and a half years. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of having to work in the hostile and toxic environment she intentionally created. I reported the PTSD to management at least 25 times over a period of approximately two years without ever receiving a response addressing the injury. I was threatened with termination by one manager for reporting the PTSD injury. I was also ordered by three managers, including a vice-president to not talk about the injury to my co-workers in the department, even though they were vulnerable to the same abuse and injury. The department manager told me that my injuries were "petty" even though PTSD is a potentially disabling injury that is treatable, but not curable. Like AIDS, once you have PTSD, you always have it.
I was a target and victim of "workplace psychological abuse," also know as "bullying/mobbing," and sometimes as "scapegoating." It's a common problem in this country and is getting more and more attention, but not at St. Alphonsus, where management not only ignores it when someone is the target of bullying/mobbing, (even after their own counseling staff diagnoses it and determines that it occurred on their campus), but actually participates in the abuse and adds to the injury. Unlike some more advanced countries where psychological abuse is included in laws addressing sexual and physical abuse, and those convicted of it face jail time, the US has no federal legislation against psychological abuse. If you want to know more about workplace psychological abuse I recommend the article by Noa Davenport, entitled "When Conflict in the Workplace Escalates to Emotional Abuse," which can be found at www.mediate.com/articles/davenport.cfm# or at www.mediate.com/pfriendly.cfm?id=1063.
Like sexual and physical violence, psychological violence has an enormously harmful impact on the person who is the target of this kind of violence. Those inflicted with psychological violence are changed forever. That's what violence, any kind of violence, does. It severs the target from the person he used to be. From then on that person has to reconstruct his life from a different place, or from a different foundation. It's a process that takes time and I'm only beginning to understand all the implications of what it means for me to have been the target of chronic violence at St. Alphonsus for over two years, but I believe I'm getting off to a new, strong, and promising beginning. At the age of nearly 60 I shouldn't have to go through this traumatic experience in my life, but then no one at any age should be subjected to any kind of violence. Unfortunately Saint Alphonsus has a long-standing reputation for mistreating their employees. I know of others who had to leave and like myself, needed years of therapy and medication to recover from the harmful treatment they received at Saint Alphonsus, treatment that was not accidental, but deliberate; treatment that, in my experience, may have started from an abusive co-worker, but really has its foundation in dysfunctional management.
The taproot of this problem is in senior management. When lower level managers refuse to address behavior that clearly jeopardizes patient care and causes injury to employees, and when the same managers behave in a dishonest, unethical, and injury-causing manner toward employees (as they did to me) it's because they have permission from senior management to misbehave like that. Judith Wyatt and Chauncey Hare in their excellent book, Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive it, write: "If managers misuse the power that accompanies their organizational role, the misuse is rarely questioned or confronted by higher authorities in the organization. In fact misuse is presumed, and the rights of lower or middle management to misuse role power against employees is often protected by top management." I believe that many employees at Saint Alphonsus have been mistreated and even injured by abusive behavior from either co-workers, or by negligent and abusive behavior from management.
My obligation as a responsible citizen and health care professional, is to (as I have been doing since leaving Saint Alphonsus), publicize the problem and address what happened to me. This is a community-endangering problem. I have been and will continue to address this problem in a peaceful civilized manner. Publicizing this experience needs to be done to raise awareness so people can take steps to protect themselves since what I experienced at Saint Alphonsus, from January, 2004, represents a serious public health menace that jeopardizes the health and safety of everyone in this region.
Stay tuned for more information. I will be addressing different aspects of this horror story in the future. Any questions? My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to identify yourself.
Note: I can provide written documentation of the above reports, including but not limited to
--the diagnosis of PTSD from a St. Alphonsus counselor.
--the threat of termination from a manager for reporting to him the PTSD, a potentially
disabling on-the-job injury that I was required by medical center policy to report.
--the claim that my injuries were "petty" from the department manager.
--written orders from a vice-president to not talk about the abuse and the PTSD to other